By David Wheeler
Special to the Journal
The Tupelo Golden Wave is headed to Jackson this week.
The Wave is three days removed from sending yet another shock wave through Mississippi by defeating 10-time champion, and current Class 6A title holder – the South Panola Tigers – 12-3 in semifinal action of the MHSAAplayoffs.
The Wave might still be one of the biggest question marks in the state outside of Northeast Mississippi.
Yet, on the strength of a stingy and quick defense, Tupelo (13-1) has an appointment in Jackson Friday at 7:30 p. m. against Oak Grove (13-1) in the 6A title game.
Not above messing with a good thing like its rock-solid linebacking corps, the Tupelo coaching staff tweaked its defense by playing a 3-5 in running situations instead of its usual 3-4. The Wave basically played an extra linebacker in the form of senior Malik Coleman.
The move had some obvious success.
South Panola running back Darrell Henderson had rushed for 216 yards in the regular season meeting, and only managed 58 yards Friday.
“We looked at the sets, and how they had manhandled us earlier,” Tupelo head coach Trent Hammond said. “We decided to go eight in the box, and added another kid that could go.”
Tupelo junior Alex Norwood was informed around noon Friday that starting quarterback Daniel Bristow had the flu. Norwood would be making his first start of the season in place of the sophomore.
The Wave offense and Norwood responded by not committing a single turnover Friday, after giving South Panola the football three times during their regular season meeting.
“Bristow will be fine, he’ll be ready to roll this week,” Hammond said.
But that was not the only health obstacle Tupelo had to overcome.
In the second quarter against South Panola, junior center Nathan Cox hurt his knee, forcing junior guard Graham Taylor into snapping in a game for the first time all season.
What made Taylor’s performance more remarkable was that he had broken his left hand the previous week against Madison Central.
“We won’t know anything about Nathan Cox until later in the week,” Hammond said. “If Graham had to break his hand, at least it was the left.”
The Favre question
Oak Grove is scoring 40.3 points per game.
Tupelo is only allowing 9.9 points per game.
Yet many this week will be inserting the Oak Grove offensive coordinator’s name into one of the questions of the week – how will the Tupelo defense handle Brett Favre’s offense?
“Brett Favre won’t be on the field,” is Hammond’s early answer. “We’ve just got to line up, and see where it all falls.
“Our kids are use to it being us versus somebody.”
Of course, Tupelo’s last two games have seen victories against Bobby Hall’s Madison Central team, and 10-time state champion South Panola.